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Traveling Far with the Body of a Soldier
***This essay was first written and published, March, 2020.***
Early morning a couple Sundays ago. 6:30ish. I lean into Henry’s ear and say what I’ve been practicing saying in my head for the last hour.
“Happy birthday, dude.”
He’s sound asleep, barely stirs. I can smell his warm breath and it smells like kid guts: sort of morning garlicky but with cotton candy. It’s gross and beautiful at the same time. Maybe it’s just because he’s my kid though, you know? Maybe if it was anyone else I’d turn away from the weird pungent ghost slipping up into my skull and beeline for a window or a bar of soap or something. But his breath draws me in like witchcraft. Like ancient howling winds connecting the dots of our bigger picture.
I poke him in his ribs gently. He digs me, I’m lucky, but he digs me and I know this even though I sometimes take it for granted/ am an asshole/ hurl rocks at his tenderness because I’m all messed up inside. He loves me and he shows it though and if you know what that is like then you know. If you don’t, I would give you a pint glass of that if I could. I just don’t know how, man; the gift is tied up to my bones with biker gang chains/ attached to me like some barking dog out behind the trailer.
I have a wrapped present in my hands. It’s a graphic novel about the Battle of Gettysburg. Something for kids they had on Amazon. Henry had seen it when we were surfing for gift ideas a few weeks back. I’ll admit it. I had pulled it up on the screen when he seemed more interested in a t-shirt that had the words ‘Chicken Whisperer’ overtop the silhouette of a hen.
“Oh, I’d read that,” he’d said quickly.
I didn’t hesitate. You don’t hesitate when your kid says rare shit like that. You jump all over it/ you order the book and you make sure you have it in time for the birthday because you imagine this as the beginning of something magic happening for you.
You and your Civil War thing, your Gettysburg thing, and suddenly: What? Maybe you can pull the kid into it too?
Father/Son trips to battlefields?
Father/Son sharing rare books about these long dead soldiers or those ones?
Father/Son standing together in the evening twilight up on Little Round Top/ no one else around/ “Dad?”/”Yeah, man?”/”Thank you for letting me be your Civil War nerd partner for life.”/ I’m tearing up/ staring down at the Peach Orchard through the rain on my windshield/ I put my arm around his strong shoulder/ my weak fat old man arm/ (this is like 30 years from now)/ I watch a bald eagle land on a distant cannon/ we say no more/ except I say, “I have loved you since the first of your moments, Henry”/ then a bolt of lightning comes out of nowhere and blows my chest wide open and I land on Henry and save his life, the deadly currents from on high totally sopped up by the soles of my cheap ass Columbia hiking boots: I am gone/ a hero/ A Dad Hero/ a selfish self-centered one-track-minded dip shit who has to tell you that, despite all of this feeble mindfulness I’m throwing out there/ trying to admit that I know that even in my best moments I am driven by deeply personal gravities… even though all of that is true and undeniable… the sad fact of the matter is that the fantasy doesn’t end there.
Not at all.
I mean, even as I’m waking my middle kid, my 9-year-old son on the morning of his 9th birthday/ on the morning of the green flag dropping on the spectacularly impressionable year in the life of a young boy in this savage world/ the truth of the matter is this, homie:
“Henry, wake up, buddy.”
He opens his crusty eyes, that breath mixing with my breath, our existences colliding in this Sunday morning predawn, all gunmetal grey/all softly quiet clear and blue/ I hand him the book wrapped in wrapping paper I got at the Dollar Tree, he opens it and smiles so hard and I feel his love lifting me up/Jackie Wilson/ higher and higher/ and I look him square in the eyes and I say to him the thing: the thing we had talked about doing together: “Just me and you, Dad?”/ “Sure, man. Just me and you.”/ and I so tell him/ “Get your clothes on, we are going to Gettysburg, dude”
And he says, “Today? Now?”
His grin hits the walls on both sides of the room.
Then he says it.
“Just me and you?”
“Yup,” I tell him. “Get you stuff on and come down and I’ll take you to Sheetz for something to eat.”
I can feel his electrified spirit kissing my head.
But remember what I was saying?
I am also very excited about this because of me/ because I want this to work/ I want this to go down as special and forever/ my dad never did this kind of shit/ my dad was so deep in drink-sleep on Sunday mornings when I was 9 that you could have dragged his ass out onto the middle of a real active battlefield with actual cannonballs bursting in the air and he would not have woken up for anything/ I want to win whatever it is I’m playing for here today.
The lightning bolt, the life I save, the tears of a son who loved his Dad for real, for real.
You know it ends? The fantasy?
They put up a monument to me right there on Little Round Top. The only monument that has nothing to do with the Battle of Gettysburg in the middle of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
A big bronze statue of a dude pushing 50/ in a hoodie/ with lightning shooting out of his fingertips/I’m like that one epic John Brown painting/ screaming/ cursing the Gods/ becoming a God/ saving my son and memorializing myself in the annals of history forever as the bravest man who ever stood on Little Round Top and that is saying something.
“Okay, Dad, get out of here so I can get dressed.”
Henry snaps me back to reality. I get up and I am so excited.
I am also an idiot.
On the highway, I am taking deep whiffs of Henry’s sausage and cheese croissant thing and it moves me. It smells like when my Dad used to take me smallmouth fishing, the times when he actually woke up and we went. We’d hit 7-11 and he would buy me breakfast sandwiches and a Coke and a Rachel’s Brownie (they were always by the cash register/this I knew/this I know).
“I just saw an eagle,” Henry mumbles through the sausage and cheese.
“Really?,” I ask him.
“Yeah, over there in a tree on the riverbank.”
We are 7:30 in the morning and we are Sunday and we are high above the eastern shores of the Juniata River, a river my Dad used to talk about all the time- big thick French accent: “We go fish the Juniata you will see some nice bass there.”, except we never went. He never went and so I never went.
Isn’t that weird? Now here I am. 77mph southbound aimed at the Civil War with my Dad’s grandson in the backseat/ a kid he hasn’t seen for years now/ or talked to on the phone/ or sent a birthday card to/ or bought a him a brownie at the last minute at the cash register, something the kid picks up and the old man just takes from him and tells the clerk, “This too.”
“I saw his big fat white head first,” Henry keeps explaining. “It was just sittin’ there in the tree probably looking for a fish.”
Probably looking for a fish.
You’re goddamn right he’s up there looking for a fish. man. You’re goddamn right he is. Looking for a smallmouth bass, a big one. 22 inches, 8+ pounds, drunk on winter crayfish, slow grazing in the shallows/in that gentle Sunday morning streak of sun just peeking over these gorgeous mountains.
Wild turkeys move silent on a side ridge. Acorn. Acorn. Grub worm. Acorn.
Way out there we slide down the road, me and you, Henry. The two of us flesh/blood out there in a fast Honda slicing down that road and all caught up in the eyes of a faraway eagle, like cavalry boys on a hill at dawn, sharpshooter watching us stop, then watching us roll. He almost had us, but no no no.
No no no.
Off we go.
To fight for Honest Abe.
I’ll just shoot straight for this next part, friend: give you a break from the stream-of-consciousness shit for a spell. I know how tricky that stuff can get. But just so you know, it’s not me writing that, okay? I’m just the conduit. I put up my writing antenna and the sentences/fragments/hot kid gut morning breath/ it just starts slapping up against this pane of filthy glass we are sharing here for a little while until you jet on me. Or I jet on you.
Or we both jet at the same exact time.
It happens, you know.
Writers sit there reading their own stuff/sniffing their own piss off the tree trunk at the exact same moment when you are reading it somewhere else, somewhere far away.
The exact same moment in time, reading the exact same sentences together, neither of ‘em with any idea about any of it going down like that.
Eagle watches Honda along the Juniata.
Honda kid watches Eagle along the road to Gettysburg.
You see what I’m saying?
Henry moves through the museum on his own skirmish line. He’s out in front of me, rooms ahead, galleries ahead, then he returns like a woods dog does. “I go out there, then I come back to you, boss.”
I go slower. You know why? Because I don’t want to spaz out on all of this in front of him. It might be too much. I’m serious. John Cougar Mellencamp once said something like this:
“If you tell your good buddy that he needs to hear this new record over and over again, he’s going to end up hating that record without ever even hearing it.”
I don’t want to do that and I know I could. Easily.
I take deep breaths as I look at the stretcher that was used to carry the wounded Stonewall Jackson after he was tragically shot by his own men under the dark of night at Chancellorsville.
There it is! The actual stretcher that carried:
How is that even real? For someone like me this is very rich mousse, brother. Very decadent sweet cream huzzah. How the HELL does that thing really even exist?! And there it is. RIGHT THERE. A few feet from my face. A few feet from the salty fat face of yet another unknown commoner lies the one and only rough and bloodstained stretcher that once slid the body an imperfect general into the everlasting jaws of legend.
Or blah blah blah.
God, there is so much rhetoric when men sing the praises of so-called ‘Greater Men’. You have to be ready for that kind of thing if you want to dive into Civil War waters. Grown men will dry hump Stonewall Jackson’s shattered bag of bones right in front of you as they sing Amazing Grace, their eyes locked into something behind yours that can only be seen by them.
Sometimes I find myself holding their clammy hands, a long line of men, Patagonia/Penn State/Real Tree/ Marines/ they wear their true identities on their backs/ and I am immediately uncomfortable and they are gonna jump! I don’t wanna jump! But Jesus I love that bloody stretcher that I am seeing here for the first time!
Stop judging me!
WHO AM I?
Henry is back.
I look down at him. I try and coolly point out the stretcher but he is not into it. Uninterested. Stonewall Jackshit. That’s who he is to my son.
“Dad, I have to pee.”
Next to the stretcher? You won’t believe this. A table that might be the one where the doctor amputated Stonewall Jackson’s arm after the stretcher/ before the death.
I stare at it through the bulletproof shatterproof birthdayboyproof glass. The desk. The arm. The legend. The war. The courage. The tragedy. The blood. The screams. The horse’s hooves blasting up the road in the middle of the long dark night. The whimpering. The dying. The distant firelight.
“I have to pee really bad.”
I look down at him. Two Bielankos and a Jackson.
I smile at him.
“Good. Me too. Let’s go.”
We walk out the way we came in, back towards the lobby area, towards the bathrooms and the gift shop, backwards in time: towards the front of the museum/ back past Antietam/ back past Fort Sumter/ back past the Lincoln’s election/ back past the pair of slave shackles Henry slipped on maybe twenty minutes ago, neither of us saying anything, but both of us feeling the crushing weight of the world crashing down.
“Oh my God I have to pee so bad,” Henry pleads.
I see the doors.
Back in time.
General Jackson stands up, dusts himself off, kicks a fat guy in a Steelers sweatshirt square in the nuts, and walks off into the lobby ahead of us.
To fight another day.
At the Pennsylvania Monument, we get out of the car and step into the warm sunshine and it is everything. This is one of the those February days that comes right when you need it most. At the end of your weather rope, the long noose is cut with a sunshine blade. Me and Henry land on our feet and it feels so good.
I’m nervous though.
Henry slams his car door and I hit the lock on the key fob and we start moving towards a moment that could go any which way, I guess. But at this point it is going to happen.
The Pennsylvania Monument is massive, a several story tribute to each and every Keystone State soldier who fought here during the first three days of July back in 1863. Many of them died or were wounded. Young guys from Philadelphia, from Pittsburgh, from the northern county wilds, from the central county hills. Farmers and their sons mostly, but there were all kinds. School teachers, general store clerks, carpenters, blacksmiths, mill grinders, whatever men did back in the 1860’s… they ended up here. At Gettysburg.
And they ended up here with fighting on their minds.
It wasn’t by design, most things that we recall in history aren’t. But this was a crossroads town with ten roads meeting in the middle of it. The Confederate Army headed north in June that year, Robert E. Lee intent on moving the war away from Virginia and her ravaged landscape to greener pastures across the Mason-Dixon. A win up here could have meant a vastly different tale to follow. As it happened though, that didn’t come about. The Commonwealth put this monument up to her lads years later. Each Pennsylvania soldier who fought at Gettysburg has his name on the thing.
You find the regiment.
You find the company.
You trace your finger down through the air, picking things apart.
You say the name to yourself if you’re on that trip.
And if it’s your very first time, you hold your breath as you close in on it. Your heart bashes up against the possibility that none of this happened. That kind of disappointment might have changed me forever in a different way than the way it ended up changing me forever in the other direction.
Me and Henry walk through some lady taking photos from out on the lawn by the memorial and even though I try to shrink my shoulders when we march by (as if that would allow me to remain invisible and not ruin her picture?), I secretly hope we ended up in one of her shots. She was shooting hard and fast and I like to think that there we are: two guys sharing a day, walking into a possible moment together, two strangers photo bombing her relentless attempt to capture something impossible. She wasn’t taking photos of a person standing in front of the monument. Just the monument itself.*
*Ugh. Photos of monuments without living people in them bore me. Pleeeease. You’ll capture nothing but stone. The essence of death requires life to work. It’s that simple. Otherwise: No.
I lead Henry around the north side.
“118?” he asks me.
“Yep,” I say and he’s off running ahead again. Skirmishin’ out front once more.
Looking for the number. Saying it over and over to himself, not even realizing that he’s saying it out loud.
“One-eighteen, one-eighteen, one-eighteen….”
Just like I did not so long ago, when I first dove into the Ancestry.com and nothing was ever the same. I went looking for something not expecting to find anything at all. Instead, I found the 118th.
“One-eighteen, one-eighteen, one-eighteen…”
Now here is what I can tell you about this as succinctly as I know you probably need me to because, you can admit it: you’re already invested in this/ but/ hey… you’ve got shit to do.
My Mom-Mom was called Doris McClure. She was ahead of her time. She loved me and my brother very, very much. She was short and stocky and had a bad knee that made her limp for most of the years I knew her which was all of my life from the day I was born until I was in my late teens. She drove a white Dodge Colt with red interior. Cloth not leather. She was a blue-collar worker, stuffing envelopes and sealing them up over in West Conshohocken on the high hill looking down over the Schuykill Expressway. Before my mom came along, Mom-Mom was in the Navy in WWII, same as my Pop-Pop, who loved me very much but drank hard and treated her badly in the years I was around.
Mom-Mom was not into drama, she would do anything to move you away from panicking or getting mad and over towards smiling again.
I think this might have been on account of a hard life.
I think my Mom-Mom had a hard life and she never talked about it. People did not talk about their hard lives so much back in the day because hard lives were not uncommon nor were they seen as trophies of existence. Hard times were survived and then buried, hopefully never to resurface.
The only rumor I ever heard about my family and our past was that we were distant cousins to Ulysses S. Grant. Which, it turns out, is bullshit. And that’s fine by me. Because listen… we both recognize the reality here. If I was related to US Grant I would probably dress up like US Grant. A lot. Alright? So we don’t need that, any of us. YOU be related to Grant. Or Lincoln. Or whatever.
I think Mom-Mom didn’t know too much about her past, about her roots. Our people on her side were Delaware County and Philadelphia people. Later we hit Montgomery County, but we rarely ventured out of that domain. I think Mom-Mom knew her own mom but she never knew her dad. He was a no-show in her world.
I never heard her mention anyone from her past, from when she was a little girl. I don’t know why. I don’t know if she was sad about things or what. I don’t think she knew much beyond the people she grew up around. Family trees and stuff aren’t something people think about in the middle of trying to survive. It’s kind of beautiful in a very somber light if you consider that.
My Mom-Mom was the coolest person. She loved me when I needed love bad, when my dad was a no-show. And she taught me about what it meant to be a person who doesn’t judge other people based on their skin color or their religion or their sexual preference. If you said an off-color thing in front of my grandmother, she would try and drag you into some kind of happier moment a few seconds into the future, even if she was crying about the shit you just said.
I wish I could have told her what I know now. That her great great great grandfather had come to Delaware County, Pennsylvania from Germany once upon a time.
And, Mom-Mom, I’d say, check this out: he was a Colonial soldier in the American Revolution.
Know what else? His son, YOUR great-grandfather, Mom-Mom, he was a Delaware County guy too, and he fought in the Civil War!
She would have rolled her eyes, raised her eyebrow.
“Get outta here, man!” she would have hollered, laughing.
I’m serious, Mom-Mom! And guess what else? His two brothers… your great uncles, they fought with him. And they were at Gettysburg!
Your relatives fought at Gettysburg.
Can you believe that? Isn’t that magic to know that now after all this?
Your relatives fought at GETTYSBURG.
Which means mine did too.
Which means Henry’s did too.
Oh yeah, he’s my middle son. Oh my god, you’re gonna love him. Oh my god, you two are going to love each other so much.
Wait here, okay?
Henry stops in his tracks up the sidewalk.
He’s staring up in front of him, pointing at the air before the plaque.
“Dad! Here it is! The 118th!”
I turn around to see my Mom-Mom, but no dice. There’s just that lady taking dumb pictures. And Stonewall Jackson up on a horse by himself over there in a slash of sunlight. He’s staring at me and Henry, sucking on half a lemon.
I take Henry’s picture as he points at the name on the plaque commemorating the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry because that’s the name connected to everything I’ve been trying to tell you here. I imagine that this is somehow a very powerful moment in both of our lives, but honestly, in retrospect, I’m not so sure that it hits Henry like it hits me.
Which leaves me flapping in the wind a little, you know?
Then I hit myself in the face. Not really, but you get what I’m saying. I talk myself down out of the tree. Henry is 9 today. His life is trampoline bouncing and root beer and old baseball cards I gave him that have no value whatsoever but are worth a Cadillac each to him because they were once mine when I was his age and I gave them to him.
Jesus, I remember the day I gave them to him, too.
“Now Henry, these were mine when I was your age and I want you to take care of them so that someday…”
Oh shut up, windbag. Shut uuuuppp.
I gave him the cards but tried to bury myself in the shoebox with them. Ha.
You can’t do that kind of thing, man!
You can’t push your world into someone else’s. Even if they are your kid. You have to let them decide that for themselves. I know that but I never listen to myself when I tell myself things.
I make Henry point at Fred Marker’s name and you know what? Fred Marker probably squirms in his grave somewhere.
Leave that kid alone. I’m fine down here. He can dig me out on his own someday if he wants to.
If his goddamn strange old man ever puts me back into the grave to begin with and stops parading me all over the place like a dang show hog!!
It’s hard, this figuring life out, ain’t it?
Henry gets tired at Pickett’s Charge. I had envisioned us parking at the Virginia Monument, in the shadow of the Lee statue, and tracing the footsteps of the Rebs that walked out across that smoky long mile one July 3rd, but it isn’t happening.
He says his foot hurts. Why, I ask him. He says he banged it the other day. It’s vague, that answer, and frankly I suspect it to be a lie. But I’m sticking to my guns here. I’m not forcing any of this on him. We’re here and that’s enough. I take his picture in front of the Lee statue’s shadow. It’s kind of cool: a horse and rider in silhouette and Henry’s arm reaching out to pat the horse’s nose in silhouette too.
I look out at the fields stretching all the way to the distant Union line, to the Bloody Angle, to where Armistead fell. We stood over there a while ago together. We stood where Cushing fell too and Henry read the wayside markers that try to bring what you’re staring at alive. I don’t know that it hit him like that.
I showed him the copse of trees when we were standing there beneath them.
Now I point them out from way over here and he shields his eyes and looks that way.
I’ll be damned.
Probably just like Lee did right before it all went straight to Hell.
I’ll be damned.
Who am I to make a connection with a soldier from the Civil War?
I mean, what right do I have to do that? Pure blood, but is that enough? I don’t know. No one cares/ I get that/ but still. Is it weird? Is it normal? To find out something like I found out about my past and then to launch myself at it with electrically, the charges of my wiring shooting sparks into my heart and my mind, is that good?
Is it okay?
Is it right?
I don’t know the answers. And evidently I don’t give a damn either, because look at me, right? I’m all in now. But you know, I do feel connected to something and someone I have never known and I am, I think- for lack of more scholarly phraseology- I am indeed getting off on it.
It feels natural to me. Okay, it feels more than natural. It feels… I dunno… right.
Finding out about Frederick Marker, finding out he was at Gettysburg, it feels right to me. Like I was born to know that and to do with it what I might.
Or maybe even like I was born to spread his name because I am him. Or because I was him in a past life.
I think I was at Gettysburg.
I think I fought there in a past life.
My name was Frederick Marker.
God, can you imagine if I was serious. That would be amazing for you.
It really would.
“You know that dude Serge Bielanko I told you about that I read his stuff sometimes… his blog? Well, he thinks he was a soldier at Gettysburg in a past life!”
Then you’d sip your wine and take another scoop of ziti and sit back all warm and snug, so sure that everyone else is way fucking crazier than you will ever be.
In a past life I was a fat old peasant woman who smelled like cow shit and raisins in the summer rain.
Same as in this life.
Henry has his back against the monument to the 118th Pennsylvania out on the Stony Hill. This is where they fought, where my great-great-great grandfather fought. By all accounts they weren’t here on the front lines for too long. I think they were soldiers with less than stellar leaders/ I think they got yanked to the back when other men on the same side as them were charging straight at their deaths.
It’s neither here nor there right here and now though. I take a couple of photos of Henry sitting against the monument and it’s in that moment or two that I understand that he seems very natural in this setting. He’s not pretending to be awed by this place. That may come later in his life, maybe not. It doesn’t matter really. I’m able to push my own trajectory off the tracks at long last and with that I’m able to see Henry more clearly.
I’m grateful, too.
A kid’s birthday ought to be an easy day for a dad to sit back and take stock, so to speak, to see the forest for the trees. Sit back with a solid snifter of deep-cask oaky Pretentious County bourbon and fix an eye on his boy and tune in deep to the ancient telegraphs coming down the wire. Messages from the deep. The words of the wise and gone relayed to the living. History cracking open her all-powerful egg on my brain and letting that sage yolk slide down easy, seeping into my mind, making me see what I really ‘need’ to see.
Not today though. Thankfully. Just in the nick of time I save myself from my own damn enfilade. Henry’s face has a little dirt on it and he’s oblivious. I notice it as I take his picture and he tolerates me snapping away with my phone, but just barely. His face is older than his years for a bit. His eyes are tired, this day has been a long one. I’ve fed him a lot of past, a lot of death without glory, a lot of decaying bodies in the hot July sun instead of Chinese toy muskets at the shops in town.
I’m not saying I’m right about that either. All I’m saying is that I held back more than I can tell you. I wanted to sign him up for ever for this thing. Life membership/ me and you, Henry/ Gettysburg/ Civil War/ 118th Pennsylvania/ Frederick Marker/ The Wheatfield/The Stony Hill/ hold my hand/ let me lead you, son.
But the truth is, I probably need him to lead me just as much. Here this afternoon, as the shadows beneath the bluest sky of all time offer dark pockets of woodlot to explore, and as I wish, wholeheartedly, that we could explore them now/together/right up until dark, I also understand other things too.
He is growing up. Even at 9, you’re way more grown up than your Dad ever thought you would be. He’s got a beautiful heart, like the Mom-Mom he never knew/will never know. It could be her heart in there pounding away behind his ribs, who the hell knows. They sure seem alike in so many ways.
Good hearts connected by blood always do, I guess.
It’s all we have in the end, really. The blood. The unbreakable bonds of what runs through those veins. You end up chained to so many you will never ever even hear of, but they live on down in your cellars, man. Down in the musty dark harbors that run through your guts, through your face and your name.
We hit another Sheetz on our way out of town and we grab a late lunch to go.
“How long were we there, Dad?” Henry asks me as I pull out onto the highway, aimed north from the south.
I think on it.
“Well, we pulled in right when the Visitor Center opened at 9, right? And it’s 4 now, so like 7 hours, I’d say.”
I watch him processing that in the rearview. He smiles at something that he’s thinking but he doesn’t share it and I don’t ask.
“You want to listen to some tunes?,” I ask him.
He keeps looking out the window, farm fields sliding by, places where Frederick Marker and the boys probably marched past so long ago.
“Nah, can we just talk for a while?” he says.
“Okay, man,” I say.
And we talk about the day; about what presents he hopes he might get later; about 9/11 and about other stuff I can’t even remember anymore. At one point he’s talking a blue streak, stretching out an 18-inch fruit Roll-Up in front of his face as he’s speaking, when I look at a car coming up hard behind us in the passing lane.
Teenage moron, I think to myself as it’s about to shoot right by us.
I grip the wheel of the Honda, fix my eyes out my window, wait to give the kid a look. The car gets up beside us, it’s a gray Hummer, burning gas, blowing out the fossils; Henry is still yammering in the back as it slows down to the same speed as me/ hits a holding pattern right beside us.
I swallow hard and look over.
I’ll be damned.
It’s Stonewall Jackson.
I’m not lying.
Stonewall Jackson: Smiling as he gives me the bird with the only arm he’s got left.
Then he hits the gas and he’s gone.
Hey there. I hope you’re well. Thank you for reading my free essay this week. So here’s the thing. This essay was originally published on March 3, 2020 on my old blog, Thunder Pie. But I’m very proud of it and for a while now I’ve been waiting for this exact opportunity, in the days leading up to my 50th birthday (December 12), to share it once again. My big wish here is that you’ll consider heading on over to my 50th Birthday Facebook Fundraiser. 50. In the spirit of STILL being alive, I’ve picked one of my absolute favorite American nonprofits to try and help.
They’re called The American Battlefield Trust (ABT) and, straight up, they save Civil War battlefields from being paved over (and Revolutionary War ones too).
Battlefields are, in my opinion, magic places where older folks (like me!) can share moments with younger ones (like Henry!) while walking in the very footsteps of soldiers and citizens whose played-out lives can teach us much about our own lives still unfolding.
Between me and you, I love the idea of my birthday being affiliated somehow with helping The ABT because they have helped saved A LOT of historical battlefield land in our country from becoming parking lots and housing developments and crappy discount stores where you buy your kids Ring Dings and Mountain Dew under raging halogens instead of showing them the dusky edges of old corn fields where young soldiers from New York or Maine or Mississippi or Georgia once lay gut-shot and sacred and mouthing their mama’s name.
I mean, c’mon.
You know, among the places Trust has saved from eternal ruin is over 600 acres at the location of The Battle of Shepherdstown in West Virginia: a place where my own GGG grandfather and his brother, Fred and Lewis Marker, once fought hard alongside one another as members of the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteers in 1862.
That is so damn righteous to me, the idea of saving THAT land for my kids to visit with their kids someday when I’m long gone. It moves me. And I want to help if I can. Here’s the link if you want to help too.
Carefully edited by: Arle Bielanko
Drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Send me mail: Serge Bielanko/ PO Box 363/ Millheim, PA/ 16854